INTRO: WCRR ’99, the fourth World Congress on Railway Research, will be held at the Railway Technical Research Institute in Tokyo, from October 19 to 23. RTRI President Hiroumi Soejima looks at some of the developments which will be under debate

BYLINE: Hiroumi Soejima

President, Railway Technical Research Institute

IT IS A GREAT privilege for me to welcome WCRR ’99 delegates to Japan, as the very concept of a World Congress on Railway Research originated in the International Seminar which was held in 1992 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Railway Technical Research Institute. This later developed into a comprehensive international conference every two years, at which railways across the world can present the results of their latest R&D projects, exchange information on state-of-the-art technologies, and seek international collaboration on a wide variety of railway-related research. The first three conferences were hosted by SNCF in Paris in 1994, the AAR in Colorado Springs in 1996, and FS in Firenze in 1997.

The main theme for WCRR ’99 is New Technologies Create New Opportunities for the Railways & Society of the 21st Century. There will be considerable emphasis on linking the latest R&D with opportunities for broad-range discussions on how to harness new technologies to improve railways and create a better society for the next century. We expect active discussions and constructive proposals for the research and technologies which rail must tackle urgently if we are to enhance the quality of life and advance environmental protection.

As the research body for the JR Group railways, RTRI is privileged to host at its Kokubunji-shi test centre in Tokyo the first WCRR to be held in Asia. Following the opening session, and keynote speeches, there will be oral, specialist, and poster presentations, technical visits, and a related exhibition. There will also be a range of social events including the welcome reception, gala dinner, and a ceremony for the best paper awards. We hope that this will provide opportunities for relaxed discussions between the many participants from around the world. We expect more than 500 participants, including 160 overseas and 70 Japanese presenters, plus delegates and visitors to the exhibition.

No less than 480 papers were submitted to the WCRR ’99 secretariat, and of these approximately 250 were selected for presentation. All of the papers to be presented have met the general aim of the theme, yet they cover a very wide variety of topics. They include: safety, advanced transportation systems, tilting, maglev, gauge changing, rail structures, noise prevention, transport networks, passenger services, and environmental protection measures.

Presentations will be divided into oral and poster categories. Approximately 80 oral papers describing the prospects for technological development in a broader perspective will be given in the four main session rooms. The various poster presentations in 13 session rooms will report on specific research and development projects in the various fields of railway technology. The poster presenters will also make short oral presentations, and will have the opportunity for discussions on common topics with other participants at the discretion of session chairmen.

After the conference sessions, there will be four technical visits on October 21 and 22. One covers the latest maglev developments at the Yamanashi Test Centre. The second is to the JR East Operations Centre which manages the Tohoku, Joetsu and Nagano shinkansen, plus the JR East rolling stock workshops in Tokyo which maintain the capital’s commuter EMU fleets. The third visit covers the JR Central depot in Tokyo which maintains the Tokaido and Sanyo shinkansen trainsets. The fourth will see a worksite on the Minato-Mirai 21 underground railway in Yokohama, being constructed by the Japan Railway Construction Public Corporation (JRCC), with a demonstration of shield tunnelling techniques.

We are also planning an optional tripby shinkansen to the historic city of Kyoto. This will include visits to RTRI’s large-scale, low-noise wind tunnel in Maibara, where we can simulate aerodynamic phenomena caused by high-speed trains, and to the newly rebuilt Kyoto station.

The two day technical exhibition on October 19 and 20 will run in parallel with the paper sessions. Around 60 exhibitors will be showing off state-of-the-art railway technology from around the world. We know there has been a lot of interest in Japanese technical developments, so we expect the exhibition to attract a great deal of attention from visiting railway engineers.

Whilst the small and far-from-luxurious RTRI premises are perhaps not ideal for such a large-scale international conference, we hope that the venue will be appropriate in a different sense. It will give many people from the railway industry a meaningful insight into our research activities, and I hope that it will be a highly stimulating occasion. It will also be very encouraging for all of us at RTRI to hear the opinions and impressions of the participants.

RTRI projects on show

WCRR ’99 delegates will have an opportunity to see some of the latest projects under way at RTRI. These include the high-speed maglev programme, work to accelerate rail services and reduce their environmental impact, improvements in vehicle and infrastructure maintenance, and the development of better urban transport.

Even before the Tokaido Shinkansen was inagurated in 1964, the former Japanese National Railways set a target to achieve a 1h journey time between Tokyo and Osaka. This required a maximum speed of 500 km/h, which was thought to be impossible with conventional steel-wheel on steel-rail operation. As a result, the decision was taken to investigate a magnetically-levitated solution, using superconducting magnets and linear motor technology for very-high-speed running, with a low environmental impact.

The first test runs with the ML-100 experimental vehicle using on-board superconducting magnets were publicly reported at the RTRI Kunitachi institute in 1972, to coincide with the centenary celebrations of Japan’s railways. The unmanned ML-500 attained a speed of 517 km/h in 1979, whilst MLU002N set a manned speed record for maglev operation of 411 km/h in 1995.

In 1990 the Ministry of Transport authorised the construction of a new maglev test track in Yamanashi prefecture about 100 km west of Tokyo. This was designated as a national project, and has been partially funded by the ministry. RTRI, Central Japan Railway and JRCC were officially nominated as the responsible bodies, and have also funded some of the research.

In the original plan, the test line was to be 42 km long, but, to speed up the programme, development work has been concentrated on an 18·4 km pilot section. This test track has a minimum curve radius of 8000m and a maximum gradient of 4%.

Two trains have been tested at up to 550 km/h in three and five-car formations. The first MLX01 three-car set was delivered in the summer of 1995, and began running tests in the spring of 1997 (RG 5.97 p299). The target speed of 550 km/h was reached on December 24 of that year. At the beginning of 1999, a five-car set was formed from the two three-car trains, and this went on to achieve a manned record run at 552 km/h on April 14 with 13 people on board. Next year the government will be able to decide on the future shape of Japanese maglev development based on the experience gained in three years of testing.

Another current development under way at RTRI is a Gauge Change Train (GCT) which can operate on both the 1435mm gauge shinkansen routes and the 1067mm gauge national network. The decision to explore this possibility was taken in 1994, at the request of JRCC. With financial support from the Ministry of Transport, a prototype GCT EMU was delivered to RTRI in November 1998. The key to this EMU is a gauge-changing motor bogie with traction motors that slide on the axles while the train is traversing an automatic gauge-changing section (RG 3.99 p155).

Each wheel on the prototype unit is powered by a 95 kW permanent magnet synchronous three-phase motor, with four IGBT inverters per bogie to provide individual control of each wheel. Following early trials at Kunitachi, the prototype is currently being tested at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado. After this programme, we will bring the GCT back to Japan for continued running trials.

When considering the scope for speeding up existing railways with a growing awareness of environmental concerns, noise abatement is becoming increasingly critical for railway operators. To explore the technology more fully, RTRI has built a large-scale low-noise wind tunnel at Maibara, near Kyoto.

This enables us to study the aero-acoustic and aerodynamic phenomena of high-speed trains, and has two key features. An extremely low background noise level makes it possible to measure the aerodynamic noise generated from a model with remarkable accuracy. The second is a large, high-speed moving belt ground plane, which enables us to simulate the airflow between the model and the ground with a considerable degree of accuracy. This is proving very helpful for research into ways of decreasing drag and improving the aerodynamic characteristics of high-speed trains. The wind tunnel can also be used for other commercial research outside the railway industry.

Increasingly in recent years there has been a growing need for global communication in many aspects of railway research and development. I firmly believe that WCRR ’99 will help to foster this through the building of closer relationships between the researchers and engineers taking part. At RTRI we will be doing our best to encourage these relationships, and we would like to see all the delegates participating fully in the various congress activities. Not only will they accumulate useful knowledge and information, but we hope they will also have a very enjoyable conference.

CAPTION: Being developed with financial support from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, the prototype Gauge Change Train delivered to RTRI in November 1998 is now undergoing endurance tests at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado

CAPTION: The Japanese government will decide next year on the future shape of maglev development, based on the experience gained with two MLX01 trainsets at the Yamanashi test track, including two record manned runs at 552 km/h on April 14

CAPTION: RTRI’s large-scale low-noise wind tunnel at Maibara, near Kyoto, is designed to study the aero-acoustic and aerodynamic phenomena of high-speed trains